Chapter 1, Part 5
The fantastic black horse-like creature had been zipping to and fro around the mountain forest with the speed of an arrow, but then suddenly stopped when Tohru and company disappeared. Its behavior had changed completely; it was now standing quiet and still as a statue. Not even a hint remained of its earlier ferocity. On the contrary: its eyes were hollow, almost as though all its life force had been sapped and it had continued to stand there even after death.
With a rustling noise, a thicket of bushes was forcibly parted to reveal the figure of a man.
On his small body he wore a cloak, olive brown with swatches of dark green mixed in. It blended in with the vegetation in this area, and it would be hard to distinguish between the man and the environment. If the cloak allowed him to look less human, then the camouflage was even more effective.
And this man was thorough.
His face and his perfectly-shaven bald head were covered in paint resembling the cloak’s pattern, and on his back was a bag so long that it looked like it could have concealed a huge sword, similarly disguised by a dark green and olive brown obi sash.
“They got away, huh…” the man murmured.
He was wearing that paint on his face, so a bystander wouldn’t be able to tell what kind of expression he was making. Not even a little bit afraid of the unicorn, he walked up next to it and peered down into the ravine that Tohru and the girl had jumped into, focusing on the river that had washed them both away.
“Guess the measures taken here weren’t enough. Should I wait for Gillette-dono after all…?”
He seemed to be collecting his thoughts as he muttered to himself.
“No. I can’t let this great opportunity get away.”
A white crack spread across the man’s camouflaged face.
He had bared his teeth and was laughing.
“Let’s tie this thing up real nice, now.”
While saying this, the man turned his head to the unicorn standing as still as a statue–and began to unload the bag he had been carrying.
* * *
They must have only blacked out for several seconds. Otherwise they would most certainly have drowned.
Tohru regained consciousness quickly. The moment that he did, he checked to make sure he was still holding onto the girl. She was coughing up suds and flapping her arms and legs wildly, but she was alive, and even conscious. It was a stroke of luck for sure–the girl had managed to hold on to the coffin, so it fulfilled its duty as a flotation device. Tohru had already guessed this by the noise it had made when it had dragged the ground, but it appeared that it really was empty. It had more than enough buoyancy to support both Tohru and the girl.
Mustering all his strength, Tohru extended his arm. There were various branches hanging down from trees, but he wasn’t near any of them. However, water would sometimes rise in this area due to heavy rain, and it wasn’t unusual to find the soil whittled down or roots exposed as a result.Remembering this, despite the power of the rushing river, he was finally able to grab the root of a tree and pull himself, the girl, and the coffin back up onto solid ground with success.
Lying face-up on top of a moss-covered rock, Tohru gasped heavily.
He was incredibly fatigued. He had the feeling he’d used up most of his stamina.
A fleeting glance next to him and he saw that the girl was much the same; she was coughing and hacking violently. Even so, though, she still checked on the condition of her coffin–it must have been something very important to her. Then, she slowly turned her head in Tohru’s direction.
“Abrupt. Coercive. Excessive–”
But that was as far as she got.
The girl froze in place, and her eyes went wide.
The girl pointed in front of her.
Thinking that this could mean nothing good, Tohru got up and looked down at where he had been lying.
There was…a pale brown color.
It was definitely blood. The river water trickling down from Tohru’s clothes was dying the rock pale brown. He had suffered a wound on his back from which blood was flowing. The blood’s color was unusual only because it was mixing with the dark water. It wasn’t light pink, but closer to brown.
“Ah, so it is…”
Tohru affirmed listlessly.
The girl came closer to Tohru, gazing at his back intently.
“Me. Protecting me. No?”
Tohru, of course, couldn’t see his own back, but he could imagine what the situation was. It didn’t seem like it had reached the bone, but he felt that he had some sort of gaping wound, and sensed that it was a straight line across his back, as if it had been inflicted by some kind of sword.
“I wonder what happened.”
The girl then began to search her pockets feverishly, like she was looking for something. She was still soaked, so water came splashing out when she checked. However, it seemed like she didn’t find anything useful.
“Not here…” she muttered dejectedly.
“Uh, well, I think I’ll be fine,” Tohru said a bit wearily.
After all, he knew his own body best. If he had continued to be submerged in the water, there was a chance that he could have died from blood loss or even frozen to death due to hypothermia. However, he realized that the wound must have not cut deeply into muscle or bone, as the bleeding was already beginning to stem.
“These frugal meals have cursed me.”
His stamina was lacking. He had lost blood, and he had lost a lot of energy being exposed to the freezing river water. A tired, heavy feeling had fallen upon him. Not to mention, it had been a while since he’d had a square meal.
“I guess trying to run away…might not be possible,” Tohru said as if it was someone else’s problem.
It had been a life-threatening situation–and yet neither his tone of voice nor facial expression displayed even one inkling of urgency. It wasn’t that he was overly optimistic or hopeful, either. That was just how he was.
“A Feyra…and a unicorn to boot…it sure wasn’t too friendly.”
The girl remained silent.
Her earlier haughty attitude had made her seem like an idiot, but after being chased around by a Feyra in the mountains, she was able to at least grasp how dire the situation was.
“It’s useless. Probably best to give up. It’s a stalemate.”
As Tohru said this, he shrugged his shoulders. When he did so, pain from his wound shot up his back, and he winced.
“It was a pretty boring life, wasn’t it…”
Quickly making that judgment, Tohru muttered.
The girl’s eyes blinked as she finally spoke.
It was almost like she had never heard those words before.
Tohru nodded noncommittally, giving a wry smile.
“Yeah, I guess you could say that.”
Tohru shrugged his shoulders again.
“Death. Not afraid?”
She pointed at Tohru after hearing that.
“Hm? Ah, yeah, I guess I am. Saying I’m not afraid would probably be a lie, but–”
Tohru turned his eyes away from the girl.
He didn’t really understand it that well either.
“From the start, I never knew what I should do with my life.”
He smiled a self-derisive smile.
“In…this kind of world.”
He didn’t know what to aim for.
He didn’t know what to wish for.
He didn’t want to do anything. Those desires had all completely vanished.
And even now, there wasn’t a single thing he wanted to become.
He didn’t have any clear wishes or goals. When he thought about it, he was merely continuing to live each day aimlessly, in an endless cycle.
Was there a proper occupation that suited him?
He didn’t know what it could be.
He could have worked for the sake of his daily bread, and when he had reached the suitable age he could have taken a bride, settled down in a small house in the corner of the district, and lived out those same average days throughout old age until his death–yet he had no interest in spending his remaining time like that.
Just how much meaning did that really have?
Would it really be any different than dying right here?
For what reason was he even born?
He couldn’t help but think about these things. Putting effort into anything didn’t pay off very well. The amount that a single human could do by himself didn’t amount to very much. Living and then dying didn’t affect this corner of the world at all.
There was nothing he could do. There was nothing he could leave behind.
It was a way of life that was a lot like an insect’s or an animal’s.
The purpose of living.
Heading towards a goal.
Once, certainly, these things had existed for Tohru. However, he began to doubt his reason for living, and one day it was all snatched away from him.
That was why when it came time for Tohru to do something, he would always question if it was even worth doing. For a year, he had done nothing but wallow in depravity.
Tohru began to speak in a voice that bordered on sulky.
“Back in the day, there were times where I wanted to do stuff.”
He shrugged his shoulders.
“But not now. I don’t have the desire anymore. I just live life according to the laws of inertia.”
The girl—stared at Tohru for a while, keeping her head tilted to the side.
The girl finally said this as she sternly pointed at Tohru, as if she was commanding something.
“Again. Will find. From now on. Once more.”
The girl said this as if she was stating the obvious.
“It’s already too late.”
“Frankly, I don’t have any special talents.”
He had once had a goal in life.
For that reason, he had spent his days away.
He didn’t have the time to study other ways of thinking or outside techniques. Tohru was a lump of clay that had already been molded into the shape of a plate and then baked. It was too late to want to become a teacup instead. Even if he was told to live his life differently, it wasn’t that easy.
Without warning, she started pounding on Tohru’s back many times over.
“What the hell are you doing, you idiot!?”
“Ah. Apologize. Feeling unsatisfied.”
“‘Feeling unsatisfied’, my ass!”
It might not have been a deep wound, but having that area struck was still quite painful.
The girl suddenly pointed to herself.
“What do you mean by that?”
“Untalented. Same as you. Can do—very little.”
Saying that, she reached over to the coffin beside her and opened it up slowly.
Since the coffin had been able to float in the river, he figured that it had been empty. However…
Tohru’s eyes opened wide.
The girl was taking out a steel device.
In an instant, Tohru speculated that based on its length, it could even be some kind of mechanical spear…but no, this was different.
It was a long, long cylinder.
Its base had been screwed into a mechanical apparatus.
A scope, used to adjust aim.
There was a wooden grip and a bipod, used to fix it to the ground.
It was–a Gundo.
It was a device that wizards used to attack with their magic. Just as cavaliers used swords and archers used bows and arrows, wizards used their Gundo. In other words, having a Gundo was proof that you were a wizard.
“You…you’re a wizard?”
The girl smiled briefly, looking proud, and then she promptly got to work assembling her Gundo.
When she had taken it out in parts, it was already obvious, but…the object was so long that it even surpassed the girl’s own height. The cold, black steel and the warm, brown wood created a contrast that looked quite strange.
“This, all. Otherwise, useless. But…”
The girl unpacked the last piece, the bipod, and then she stood the coffin straight up.
“This. Can do much.”
Tohru narrowed his eyes.
He himself wasn’t a wizard, so he didn’t understand the details. However, he had heard a lot about the power wizards had.
Due to the size and weight of the Gundo, they required quite a bit of effort to operate, so they weren’t easily portable. Basically, they required the user to either leave it in one place, or at least have some really solid footing.
However–the power of magic was much greater than that of a sword or a bow.
Given a considerably long range and plenty of time, just one individual, with only one shot, could be said to have the power to level an entire castle. A few years back, the one who had died–the one whose death had ended the entire warring period, the one called the Demon King, the Taboo Emperor, Emperor Gaz the Great Sage–he was known by many names, but Arthur Gaz was said to have possessed magic so great that he had the potential to shave off entire mountains and dry up entire rivers.
“Never mind ‘running away from’ the unicorn…with this, couldn’t we actually kill it?”
A daring smile floated up on the girl’s face as she nodded her head in agreement.
She seemed to have some degree of self-confidence in her ability as a wizard.
“However. During magic activation process–move, cannot.”
Naturally, with that amount of power, wizards had been scouted out and recruited for the wars, but the majority of them lacked the capability to fight on the front lines. Instead, they mostly provided support from the back. Having to use a long, heavy Gundo while taking into account the various minute adjustments that had to be made for each particular location, it could even be said that the wizards were completely useless in close combat.
“First, we can use surveillance magic to ascertain the whereabouts of the Feyra. Then, we can think about how to strike……”
That was all he had the time to say.
The girl froze in place.
Tohru heaved a sigh.
They both turned their head slowly.
Clearly reflected in the girl’s pupils, which had grown incredibly large, was the scene behind Tohru–from amidst the trees, the figure of the horse beast had appeared.
Moruzerun, Moruzerun, Erumun.
Protruding from the top of the unicorn’s head was a body part called a “horn”–and that body part was now emitting some sort of light. It trembled on top of the unicorn’s long, thin face, and it left traces of light as it did so, but the light didn’t go out. On the contrary, the horn expanded, and with the light it began to draw a complicated pattern.
Seburun, Wamurun, Tourun.
Shunerun, Horun, Yarun.
It was–a magic square.
That was the name given to creatures who could use magic.
Fundamentally, humans had to use Gundo to use magic. To be more precise, in order to use magic without a Gundo, an unrealistic amount of preparation had to be made. Feyra, on the other hand, could use magic with their bodies alone.
Feyra bodies had been furnished with the capability for the compilation, invocation, and use of magic. In the unicorn’s case, the horn that had sprung up was a suitable vessel for storing magic.
Turning around, Tohru fixed his eyes upon the girl.
“Can I buy you some time?”
“If I buy you some time, will you be able to use your magic?”
The girl nodded her head.
It wasn’t like wizards had to have a great deal of range and a shield to keep them from getting hit by the enemy. In other words…If Tohru could allow the girl enough time to activate her magic, they would both be able to survive.
“A Feyra with that kind of power…this isn’t going to be easy.”
Saying that, he pulled his large hatchet from his waist.
Of course, it was an edged tool, so it was more used for cutting one’s way through annoying vegetation in a mountainous forest area. It wasn’t really designed for hunting or combat.
However…this probably wasn’t the best time to be worried about that. It was the only thing he could use right now.
With the hatchet–he had been taught and had acquired skills.
“I am steel.”
The girl responded reflexively, but Tohru did not reply. He was already in a state of extreme mental concentration, so while he technically heard the girl, her voice didn’t reach his consciousness.
“Steel knows no fear. Steel knows no doubt.”
To be honest…there were also parts that he didn’t really remember, but even so the words continued to slip out smoothly from his throat and out his mouth. He had repeated and repeated it so many times that the words were ground into his consciousness. Even after several years of inactivity, his ability to recall it seemed to have not diminished at all.
Should he be delighted or depressed about that?
To tell the truth, the current Tohru didn’t know.
“When faced with my enemy, I hesitate not.”
It was some kind of “key”.
A key to a dangerous weapon that he didn’t normally use.
Each time he recited the chant, he understood that something inside his body completely changed.
“I am a weapon to destroy these.”
It was a technique that was driven into humans entirely for the sole purpose of combat. A technique that turned their very bodies into weapons. It wasn’t just a matter of increased leg or arm strength. The entire body–everything up to the nerves and physiological phenomena–was redefined and optimized for the purpose of combat.
He breathed for battle, his heart beat for battle, he only thought about battle…he was no longer human. Most assuredly, this thing resembling a human shape now had the functionality of a weapon.
His entire existence–everything he was–had now come together for one single objective, one solitary function.
However, that made living as a normal human rather difficult. The body was optimized specially for battle, but that meant normal human functions were rendered useless and unnecessary.
A tool was a tool. Nothing resembling a human remained inside.
To be captured by the enemy in this state would be a dangerous situation indeed. After all, appealing to reason, loyalty, or faith was something that only a human could do.
Therefore, the ability to return back to that human state was necessary.
The ability to switch back and forth between human and weapon.
There were people who thought this.
Then those people actually turned those thoughts into reality–and they built up a clan where they could pass down the technique.
It was known as — the hidden technique, “Iron-Blood Transformation”.
All of the hair on his body stood on end.
The muscles that had been lying dormant within him awakened, and his nerves began to heat up into battle mode. In this moment, Tohru ceased to be Tohru.
He was now a sword, honed to one point.
With a long breath, his heartbeat, his thinking pattern, and everything else were all focused towards one purpose: to slaughter the enemy.
All emotions had vanished from his face.
No, on the contrary…to the girl, the unicorn or anyone else, it might have looked as if his entire physical form had suddenly changed color.
As a result of all the blood vessels in his body going into overdrive, a tattoo-like design had formed upon his body. The high-pressure energy that circulated around his skin was changing the rate that light was being refracted, so it looked like his whole body was emitting a phosphorescent glow–particularly areas that were easily influenced by blood vessel activity like the hair and eyes, which seemed to have changed color.
Red eyes. Red pupils. A red tattoo.
Looking this way, the figure of Tohru seemed like a monster.
Shunerun, Horun, Yarun.
The unicorn’s spell-chanting finished.
The magic square that was being drawn by the tip of the unicorn’s horn revolved slowly and flickered as if it were breathing. As expected, this type of Feyra wasn’t one to be intimidated by something like a human having changed color or appearance.
“Come and get me, you mule.”
Tohru readied his hatchet.
The dark horse’s outline became a blur.
In the next instant–
Thud. Thud. Thud thud. Thudthudthudthudthud!
The unicorn leapt at such a speed that it left behind an afterimage of its tail.
Its large, dark build weaved through the trees effortlessly, drawing a complex path as it approached Tohru. No matter how much jumping power it had, that kind of movement would normally be impossible; sometimes its legs would kick off from nothing but empty air.
This unicorn was definitely using magic.
While its magic was activated, it was able to use anything and everything as a foothold–even the air itself. It was a monster that, if necessary, could run along walls and ceilings, confusing the eyes of its prey as it attacked. Its body accelerated with each kick, eventually attaining the top speed of an arrow in flight. Being struck with those sharp fangs or large body at that speed would mean certain death.
The unicorn wasn’t aiming for the girl, but for Tohru.
It was already obvious from its ability to use magic, but in general the Feyra was smarter than normal animals. At the very least, it was able to understand human language. It probably saw Tohru as a more formidable foe, and thus was planning to deal with him first.
Tohru let out a sharp breath as he brandished his hatchet.
Using his left arm as support, he readied the weapon, but it crashed against the unicorn’s fang in the next instant. Sparks flew as the tusk met the edge of the blade.
Of course, Tohru’s weight wasn’t enough to stop the unicorn’s attack, so he and the dark body of the Feyra both collided and fell into the river–however, there was not a trace of irritation or anger on his face. Scarily enough, his expression remained calm and collected; he was analyzing internally the situation that had been put before him. He didn’t have time for superfluous things like “emotions”. Even calling the beast a “mule” earlier had been just a tactic to get it all riled up.
The unicorn’s hooves were not sharp.
Therefore it would either have to use a ramming attack with its body, or a slashing attack with its fangs.
And, since speed was its most distinctive attribute, it would have to aim for a one-shot kill. If Tohru knew that it was going to be aiming for his throat, he could block it no matter how much speed it had.
“I won’t let you escape.”
Tohru muttered as he twined both his legs around the unicorn’s neck.
The unicorn bellowed.
Underwater, it was limited in its abilities. Through the use of magic, its ultra-high speed would be enough to overwhelm any of the prey it normally hunted. However, movement in the water versus the air was severely limited—the water enveloping the unicorn resisted it. The result was that its speed was reduced down to basically nil.
“Now speed doesn’t make any difference!”
He was so close to the unicorn that speed was out of the question. Hanging upside-down from the unicorn’s neck with both legs, he raised his hatchet once again.
He was aiming for its jaw.
There was the sound of screeching metal.
The unicorn had bitten into the hatchet with its sharp jaws. It had turned its head forcibly and had quite literally eaten Tohru’s attack.
With this, Tohru’s only weapon was rendered unusable.
Tohru nodded his head as if confirming it himself.
He turned towards the interior of the unicorn’s mouth and jammed the hatchet in with both hands as he spoke.
“And now you can’t chant any of your spells!”
The core of the unicorn’s ability to use magic was definitely its horn, but the chanting was an essential component. Now, its jaws were preoccupied with holding back Tohru’s hatchet. If it carelessly opened its mouth, in that instant the upper half of its head could be sliced off from its body. Even if it was a Feyra, if its brains were separated from its body, that would mean instant death.
The unicorn’s bloodshot eyes glared hard at Tohru. Normal beasts would never be able to do it–but this one was definitely shooting daggers of hatred with its gaze.
“Now it’s merely a battle of patience.”
Tohru spoke with a tone void of emotion.
The unicorn could no longer use magic.
Tohru couldn’t let go of the hatchet.
It was like an endurance test between sword and sword. As fang and hatchet grated together, Tohru and the unicorn were at a stalemate.
I’m probably still at a disadvantage, though.
Tohru surmised this calmly, as if he was an innocent bystander.
With that last movement, the wound on Tohru’s back had once again opened up. If he stayed submerged in the river water, he would continue both bleeding and freezing.
It went without saying that in terms of physical strength, the as-of-yet unhurt unicorn with its large body would have the advantage.